It’s hard not to love Sean Couturier. He embodies all of what it means to be an elite two-way hockey player. Every single play that he makes is well-thought-out and planned to be as effective as possible. Of course, he’s not immune to mistakes, but it’s infrequent when he makes them. He was one of the best players on the team in the Philadelphia Flyers’ rough 2020-21 season, and he’s continuing to play exceptionally well now.
The Eye Test
“Couturier passes” is too short for me to put, but that’s the answer I’ve come across when doing research. Seriously, this guy does not miss many beats. He is seemingly always in the correct position to ensure the best possible chance for a goal. The way he thinks the game is up with the elite players. Here, he sneaks in the backdoor and throws himself right into the fire in front of the net before putting home the rebound in a game against the Washington Capitals.
Sean Couturier gets in the dirty area and doubles the Flyers' lead! pic.twitter.com/FnAvuC2lR2— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 7, 2021
That’s just one of many examples that I could pull from Twitter where Couturier goes to the right place after entering the zone. He’s smart positionally in both the offensive and defensive zone. The way he opens himself up to become an option on neutral zone rushes and then after cycling the puck is a massive asset to his linemates when looking for open areas and players to help move the puck.
Couturier has never been one to have an insanely effective shot. He’s not a sniper, nor is he a ridiculous playmaker. However, as time has worn on, he has figured out the kind of game that he can play to be the best player possible. His shot isn’t a world-beater, but it’s effective enough to keep the opponents honest. It’s the same way with his playmaking ability. Considering he can think the game at a higher level than most players, it’s easy to see that he’s processing where to move the puck before the play even happens. He is excellent at analyzing his options, which is what makes him an essential asset to the Flyers as a whole.
The eye test in the defensive zone suggests not only that Couturier is incredibly smart with his stick positioning, but his play along the walls is arguably the most impressive thing about him. Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 211 pounds, he has a physical advantage in battles along the wall and in the open ice. He positions himself well, and even if he gets beat to a puck, there’s no giving up. Couturier is a force in the corners and the fact that a player that large can squirm in and out of tight spaces with or without the puck is astounding.
Overall, there is so much to like about the eye test. It’s infrequent that you see him make a mistake that results in a goal. Couturier is one of the most intelligent players in the Flyers lineup, and it’s easily observable when watching a game.
As far as the numbers go, they are usually among some of the best players in the NHL. He scores points in the box score, and because of his two-way play, the analytics adore him. So, what do they look like this season?
In the box score, Couturier, in 13 games, has five goals and seven assists for 12 points. He needs one more assist to pass Rick Tocchet for 16th all-time in Flyers history. He is currently tied with captain Claude Giroux at the top of the Flyers 2021-22 scoring leaderboard, and I suspect it will remain that way with Travis Konecny and Cam Atkinson close behind. Both Giroux and Couturier are tied for 39th in the NHL at 12 points on the season. Couturier specifically is tied for 19th in primary assists with six. Only one of his assists is secondary, which is extremely impressive.
As far as the numbers per Evolving-Hockey go, we can start with expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at 5v5. Couturier sits at 52.07 percent, which is slightly above average. It’s good for fifth on the Flyers. In terms of goals above replacement (GAR), he’s fourth with 1.7, and in expected goals above replacement (xGAR) second with 2.5. Out of 231 players with a minimum of 200 minutes, he is tied for 114th and tied for 65th, respectively. Even though he could be up higher, there are many things to like.
Couturier is clearly helping the Flyers control the shot attempts while he’s on the ice. At 57.03 percent in Corsi-For percentage (CF%), he’s 52nd in the NHL and first on the team. Controlling the shots is what he’s done for essentially his entire career, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be stopping any time soon.
Couturier’s regularized adjusted plus-minus chart is what many would expect. It’s full of purple. The biggest thing to me is his impact on the power play. The goals for per 60 (GF/60) column being below the line is a problem for a power play that is not performing as well as it probably could be. It sits 21st in the NHL with a 17.1 percent conversion rate.
Don’t sleep on his numbers at even strength, though. He could start driving high-danger shots a bit more. But overall, he is shooting the puck, scoring, and not letting other players score much on the other end. If he’s not going to be putting up crazy offensive numbers, it’s reassuring to see him continue his excellent reign in the defensive zone.
I don’t think many people know that Couturier is having this good of a season so far. Whether it’s because of their lack of exposure to analytics or just not watching a Flyers game in detail, I don’t know, but they’re missing out. He has always been an entertaining player to watch, and it’s hard to find truly talented two-way players in the NHL nowadays. Patrice Bergeron, Couturier, and Mark Stone are essentially the epitome of this archetype. He has been one of the Flyers’ key contributors for years, and he has continued his reign among the best two-way players so far in 2021-22.